Don Roos’s ‘The Opposite of Sex’ (1998)

01Feb07

The Opposite of Sex is not a film for everyone. It is a curious blend of black comedy and character study, driven by the performances of two actors, Lisa Kudrow and Martin Donovan, who usually play supporting roles. Christina Ricci and Ivan Sergei, who look like leading role types, remain unseen for large chunks of the film. Luckily, Kudrow has the acting chops to carry the entire film herself. Shedding her Phoebe Buffay persona completely, she creates a complex, interesting character that grounds the film and provides a certain gravity to the proceedings, despite its flippant narrative voiceover. I cannot say enough good things about her performance.

Martin Donovan turns in a solid performance and he comes off as sympathetic, but he fails to connect with the audience the way that Kudrow does. Donovan could not overcome the script’s failing to provide enough of a climax for his character arc. People keep telling Bill that he doesn’t want to admit that his relationship with Matt is based only on physical attraction, but the audience doesn’t see enough of them as a couple to conclude that itself. True, Bill walks around like a zombie for the duration of the film, not really seeming to feel much, but that observation does not lead to the above conclusion. One aspect of Donovan’s performance and the script that I really respect is that Bill is not a gay character — he is a character who happens to be gay. Bill’s personal struggles are not struggles that only a gay man encounters; they are struggles that anyone might face. Donovan also does not bury the character or hide himself in gay affectation as Johnny Galecki can. I would imagine that kind of nakedness could require a lot of courage for a straight male actor.

Despite her paucity of screen time, Christina Ricci makes an enormous impression on the audience and her delivery of the snide, sarcastic narration is pitch perfect. Ricci was the ideal choice for Dede for several reasons. At that point in her career, Ricci was transitioning from child roles in movies such as Casper and Now and Then to adult roles in indie flicks like Ang Lee’s gorgeous film The Ice Storm and Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66. She was also transitioning from babyfat into the voluptuous curves that this film showcases. Both of these factors lend a certain vulnerability to Dede, despite her seemingly callous exterior.

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